Low-Wage Pittsburgh Workers to Obama Administration Official: Raise the Minimum Wage

Mar 4, 2013

Acting Deputy Administrator for the US Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour division Mary Beth Maxwell (center), hearing the stories of Nikki Edmonds (left) and Sandra Burden (right) during a roundtable discussion. The women work for minimum wage and told her raising the wage from $7.25 to $9.00 would be very helpful.
Credit Deanna Garcia/90.5 WESA News

Hannah Williams works for a temp agency where she makes minimum wage: $7.25 per hour. The single mother also goes to school. She said her job doesn’t provide the living she and needs.

“There’s times where I’ve had to try and find two or three minimum wage jobs just to make ends meet,” she said, “it’s hard because I don’t have much time with my daughter.”

Similar stories were shared at a roundtable discussion in Pittsburgh Monday. Local workers told their stories to Mary Beth Maxwell, acting deputy administrator for the US Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour division.

The group included only women, several of whom are raising children. The discussion comes as the Obama Administration works to increase the federal minimum wage.

“Raising the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour would significantly boost the income for 15 million Americans. That means putting money in their pockets that they spend on groceries, gas, clothing for their kids, they spend in their local economies,” said Maxwell.

She asked the women what they would do with a raise in wages. The ones with children all said they’d use it on them. Anna Brewer has no children. The recent Penn State graduate works two minimum wage jobs and says she can barely stay afloat.

“I haven’t had health insurance since I was a kid, so if I had extra money I would go to the doctor and get my teeth cleaned and do what I gotta do to take care of myself,” she said.

Health care was the second most popular answer among the women, along with maybe being able to save a little bit of money. Maxwell has been traveling the region, hearing about the experiences of low-wage workers. She said one common misperception is that minimum wage workers are lazy, or unmotivated. She said hearing from the workers themselves helps dispel what she said are myths.

“The people that we heard from are working really hard,” she said, “they work hard at their jobs, they want to do a good job at their jobs, they want to do a good job taking care of their kids and they just can’t make ends meet. $7.25 an hour just isn’t enough,” said Maxwell.

The last time the federal minimum wage was raised was in 2007. She said since that time prices for nearly everything have gone up while wages have stagnated. Maxwell said every time the conversation on raising the minimum wage starts, opponents say the same things.

“Oh, this will raise unemployment, or this will mean that we lose jobs, and the truth is, study after study demonstrates that’s just not true,” she said, “raising the minimum wage puts money in peoples’ pockets that they spend in their local economy, it just grows the economy and rewards hard-working folks for the work that they do every day.”

The Pittsburgh women agreed a higher minimum wage wouldn’t solve all of their problems, but said it would help them be able to get a stronger footing economically. What Alveynia Turner had to say drew vigorous head nods and cries of agreement from the women.

“We’re not asking for $20 an hour, but at least get an amount where we can stand on our own two feet, to have some confidence in ourselves that we don’t have to struggle so hard.”